People travel side-by-side across the world and do not even ask each other their name. It has always been a bad habit of mine to fill in people’s silences for them. This is harmless when it comes to strangers on planes and devastating when it comes to bedfellows. It seems every person I meet is looking for exits. Desire made me believe I could be such an exit, that people removed their clothes in the effort to escape exteriors. I was surprised to find there were shallower reasons for sex and that people who long to leave do not look for reasons to stay but simply leave.
And it makes a certain sense. Distance allows a pattern to emerge that is invisible on the ground. Suburban neighborhoods form surprising designs and lakes are artfully placed as inkspots. The lights of cities appear cast like a drop-net of stars. Looking down from above, everything is so tidy. Closeness wrecks it all. See also: intimacy issues; wax wings.
When it came to other people, I thought there would be an illuminated path. The body constellated, easy to discern. I thought that path was made of words. But there are passages that language does not enter and does not affect. Our time together is short. Everything will be abridged.
Always there is the lore of the black box. It sounds like something out of a Greek myth: the tragedy recorded, voices contained after death in an indestructible box. Black boxes are actually bright orange so that they can be easily found in the event of a plane crash. The term “black box” simply refers to any system whose production can be observed but not its inner functions. A human mind is probably the best example of a black box.
It’s been some time since I gave up my young notion of winged souls in the body. We have no wings of our own but we have an unknown engine in us. The mind is opaque and inscrutable and can conceive of its own ending. It unraveled the secret of flight but does not know itself. I find this absurd and then again, very ordinary.
Once while sitting in a terminal a moth landed at my feet. It fluttered about on the dirty carpet and I thought vaguely of Virginia Woolf. She wrote of moments of being—a term no one could adequately explain to me, but which seemed to indicate a pulling back of the wool. Some bright instant in which, to use Woolf’s own words, “we are the thing itself.”
I watched the moth hop about. I wondered how it got in, how it might get out. What it thought of all those steel birds wheeling on the tarmac.